Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3,17-19, 23
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Jesus draws a blunt picture in today's Gospel.
The Pharisee's prayer is almost a parody of the thanksgiving psalms (see for example Psalms 30,118). Instead of praising God for His mighty works, the Pharisee congratulates himself for his own deeds, which he presents to God in some detail.
The tax collector stands at a distance, too ashamed even to raise his eyes to God (see Ezra 9:6). He prays with a humble and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:19). He knows that before God no one is righteous, no one has cause to boast (see Roman 3:10; 4:2).
We see in the Liturgy today one of Scripture's abiding themes - that God "knows no favorites," as today's First Reading tells us (see 2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11).
God cannot be bribed (see Deuteronomy 10:17). We cannot curry favor with Him or impress Him - even with our good deeds or our faithful observance of religious duties such as tithing and fasting.
If we try to exalt ourselves before the Lord, as the Pharisee does, we will be brought low (see Luke 1:52).
This should be a warning to us - not to take pride in our piety, not to slip into the self-righteousness of thinking that we're better than others, that we're "not like the rest of sinful humanity."
If we clothe ourselves with humility (see 1 Peter 5:5-6) - recognize that all of us are sinners in need of His mercy - we will be exalted (see Proverbs 29:33).
The prayer of the lowly, the humble, pierces the clouds. Paul testifies to this in today's Epistle, as He thanks the Lord for giving him strength during his imprisonment.
Paul tells us what the Psalmist sings today - that the Lord redeems the lives of His humble servants.
We too must serve Him willingly. And He will hear us in our distress, deliver us from evil, and bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom.